Consumer Advocates Applaud Electricity Legislation That Protects Consumers and the Environment

July 30, 1999

Consumer Advocates Applaud Electricity Legislation That Protects Consumers and the Environment

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? A far-reaching bill guaranteed to protect consumers and the environment as electric utilities are deregulated was introduced in Congress today by Reps. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.). The legislation protects consumers against price-gouging, cost-shifting, increased pollution and interruptions in electricity service, according to consumer and environmental advocates.

The bill, HR 2645, known as the “Electricity Consumer, Worker and Environmental Protection Act,” is endorsed by Ratepayers for Affordable Green Electricity, a nationwide coalition of 190 environmental and consumer organizations coordinated by Public Citizen, which works to protect consumers, workers, and the environment in the corporation-dominated debate over deregulation.

“This legislation represents a giant step that Congress can take to ensure that consumers are not ripped off by the massive investor-owned utilities that are trying to shed government regulation but at the same time maintain their monopolistic hold on markets and consumers,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy Project and a founding member of Ratepayers for Affordable Green Electricity.

This effort comes as Congress is holding hearings on a range of complex issues raised by deregulation laws being passed by states across the country. The legislation creates strong protections against the anti-competitive behavior of utilities that have used their enormous clout at the state level to rewrite the laws for their own benefit.

“I look forward to working with Ralph Nader, hundreds of consumer and environmental groups, and my colleagues in the Congress to protect consumers and the environment,” Kucinich said.

Twenty-three states have enacted legislation or regulations to deregulate utilities. But in Massachusetts and California, two states that have actually implemented the new laws, almost no competition exists for residential and small business consumers. Also, few states have provided protection for the environment.

“This legislation insures that if deregulation happens, it must be done the right way,” Schakowsky said. “It must protect all consumers and the environment, and it has to ensure that electricity is safe and reliable.”

Added Charlie Higley, senior policy analyst for Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy Project, “Air emissions are increasing and coal is becoming the cheapest fuel option. The ?Electricity Consumer, Worker, and Environmental Protection Act? provides vital protections for our air and our quality of life.”

The bill stops the anti-consumer nuclear industry bailout, saves consumers money by reducing regulation, facilitates community choice in electricity markets, improves the effectiveness of wholesale markets and eliminates holding company abuses.

Unlike some other proposed deregulation bills, this legislation does not require states to deregulate electricity markets. But where states do deregulate, the bill provides safeguards for consumers. Among other things, the legislation:

          I.?? creates standards for high-quality, affordable electricity service;
         II.?? provides funds for universal service, low-income, energy efficiency, renewable energy and
         ????? worker retention/retraining programs;
        III.? enables consumers to use local governments to aggregate into more powerful buying groups;
         ????? requires all power plants to meet the same standards for pollution;
        IV.? separates regulated companies and competitive companies, eliminating cross-subsidies, self-
         ????? dealing and other abuses of holding companies;
         V.? limits market share of power plant owners;
        IV.? protects consumer privacy.

“Utilities want to have their cake and eat it too, and they?re paying big bucks in campaign contributions to state legislators and members of Congress to get their way,” Hauter said. “For consumers, the stakes are enormous. The average ratepayer is getting sold out by state legislatures across the country and this bill is the only vehicle for stopping this massive giveaway to utilities and their investors.”

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